Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The (non) future of book retailing

In a previous post, I lamented the demise of bookstores in general and whether its future lay in positioning and locating itself in popular vacation spots and refocusing itself solely as a seasonal business as a tourism driven business model. I dismissed it as somewhat unlikely without much introspection and am returning to this as a result of the following news item:

After a beloved local bookstore closed here last December and another store was lost to the Borders bankruptcy, this city once known as the Athens of the South, rich in cultural tradition and home to Vanderbilt University, became nearly barren of bookstores.

A collective panic set in among Nashville’s reading faithful. But they have found a savior in Ann Patchett, the best-selling novelist who grew up here. On Wednesday, Ms. Patchett, the acclaimed author of “Bel Canto” and “Truth and Beauty,” will open Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore that is the product of six months of breakneck planning and a healthy infusion of cash from its owner.

“I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore,” Ms. Patchett said, serenely sipping tea during a recent interview at her spacious pink brick house here. “But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.”

While I share the sentiments about living in a city without a bookstore what I’ve read of the article does not allow make me very confident about the survival of her bookstore (and the survival of book stores in general). When I think back to the times when I have actually enjoyed a book store visit I find that it is not when I was looking for a particular title. When I want to do this I go online. I know what I want and I want to get in and get out without having to wait in line.

It is not when I am with the kids or in a bookstore with kids running around. The children’s section needs to be located far away from the rest of me. The Barnes and Noble near us has its children section in the basement and to its credit it is a large section so that the kids can be contained within. The Borders that was near us had a children’s section as well but it was a corner of the bookstore which was not secluded enough. When I am with the kids in a book store the last thing I want to do is to try to contain them within a small space (especially when there are lots of other kids around). Fortunately, we are past that stage now.

The times when I enjoyed being in a bookstore was the indulgence of serendipity - when a knowledgeable bookseller talks to me and makes a recommendation that would never have occurred to me.  Or when talking to strangers who introduce me to a new genre. Sadly, this no longer happens as much perhaps due to our hectic schedules or changes in our lifestyles. Or perhaps the failure of bookstores is evidence of a decline in our sense of community. It would have been a place where like minded come and share ideas and recommendations and enjoy a sense of belonging.

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